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Intel Turns Graphics up to (Gen) 11

January 22, 2019

Author: David Kanter

The upcoming 10nm Ice Lake processors will employ Intel’s first mainstream GPU with 1Tflop/s of single-precision compute capability. The Gen11 graphics architecture boosts power efficiency through clever features and fixed-function hardware for the latest media formats. The new GPU will be Intel’s first to reach production since Gen9 debuted in the 2015 Skylake processors. (The company developed a Gen10 GPU for Cannon Lake, but 10nm-process delays sank that product.) As a result, AMD’s integrated Radeon GPU outmatches Intel’s current integrated GPUs for mainstream processors.

Intel has tweaked each graphics generation for greater scalability. Gen11’s large performance boost owes to a repartitioned hierarchy of shader cores and memories. The company has also accelerated its adoption of new architectural features. For example, Skylake’s Gen9 GPU was first to employ full conservative rasterization, beating AMD and Nvidia to market. Although Intel invented coarse pixel shading, the 10nm delays will prevent Gen11 from being the industry’s first architecture with this feature. Nevertheless, the new GPU adds this capability along with tile-based rendering.

The company is continuing to emphasize media processing by adding fixed-function support for new formats such as VP9 and several HDR varieties, along with greater throughput and power efficiency. On the display side, it boosted the pixel output to drive larger displays and adopted variable refresh rates to more intelligently operate displays in conjunction with the GPU.

Because of its PC market share, Intel’s mainstream graphics define the industry’s performance floor. Gen11 is scheduled to arrive in Ice Lake in 4Q19, delivering more than 1Tflop/s—a 10x increase from the first on-die GPUs in 2011—as well as a tremendous improvement in programmability and other features. Ice Lake should also reach graphics parity with AMD, and higher-performance versions will once again nip at the low end of the discrete-graphics market.

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